Sometimes I can’t even fathom the world of self-delusion that CSL (Chinese as a Second Language) planners in Taiwan live in. Yesterday, I saw an article in the TaibeiTaipei Times titled, Teachers seek edge over China.

Great, I thought. A sense of competition will be great for us students. Maybe the schools here will even stop pushing zhuyin, get rid of all the local romanization schemes and teach pinyin, the way CSL schools everywhere else in the world do. Maybe, I thought, we’ll be able to take the HSK in Taiwan, or even, (gasp!), learn the simplified characters used in modern China. I guess that was really naive of me. The entire article was about some knock-off test that Shida made a couple of years ago.

The [Chinese Proficiency Test (CPT)] has been computerized this year, the first step toward competing in the global Mandarin learning market, said Chou Chung-tien (周中天), the director of the center.

Chou said that more than 500,000 people take the HSK every year, but now with the computerized CPT, Taiwan’s test can be taken worldwide too.

What he didn’t bother to mention, is that while half a million people take the HSK each year, it’s unlikely that half a million CSL learners have even heard of the CPT. HSK scores can get us into Chinese universities, and interviews at many, many companies that use it as a standard. What does the CPT do for us?

Also, the simplified Chinese characters taught by China’s language schools do not have historical roots and meanings, unlike the traditional characters taught in Taiwan.

Really? The characters in China don’t have historical roots and meanings? Gosh, and I’d figured that they had been selected based on simplifications already in use before the PRC even existed. So, if “simplified” characters don’t have any historical roots, then why would “traditional” characters? I mean, traditional characters have changed quite a bit since the era of Oracle Bone Script (甲骨文), right? If it isn’t okay for characters to change now, why was it okay for them to change in the thousands of years before they became what are currently known as traditional characters?

Does my little tirade mean that I don’t think learning traditional characters is important for those interested in Chinese culture, literature, or history? Absolutely not. Actually, the biggest reason I came to Taiwan was that people here still use traditional characters. However, I’m a bit of an oddity. I probably would have happily studied Chinese 30 years ago, when almost nobody was. The huge numbers of students who want to learn Chinese now, though, are different. They’re learning Chinese because China is a growing power, and they probably think it will be good for their careers. At least having the option of learning simplified characters would make Taiwan an attractive CSL location for more people.

As for romanization, I don’t have so much sympathy for the prevalent Taiwanese view. I can’t think of anybody who comes to study here for the zhuyin or non-standard romanization systems. What I really wish I could tell Mr. Chou Chung-tien (周中天) is that while Taiwanese people are free to use whatever whacked-out funky romanization system they please in their textbooks, their street signs, or even their names, 99.9% of CSL learners are going to want to learn pinyin, standard pinyin.

Considering the “colorful” romanization schemes, the large numbers of Taiwanese people who can and want to speak English, the greater cost of living here, and the different character script, I can’t honestly say I’d recommend Taiwan as a place to study to any of my friends. Computer-based test that nobody’s heard of or not, you just won’t learn the same Chinese here that a company back home would want you to be able to speak and read if they hired you for your Chinese ability. Unfortunately, due to political reasons, that sort of Chinese is hard to get in Taiwan, even in the classroom. The only people that I’d feel okay recommending Taiwanese schools to are those that have scholarships and those that are interested mostly in history or classical literature. Taiwan is a pretty good place to live, though. And for English teachers, it’s a completely different story. The pay is much higher here than it is on the mainland, and from what I understand, there are more interesting higher-end opportunities for teachers here, too.

Update: David blogged on the same article a couple of days ago.